Last week the guys debated which game has the best cutscenes, and this week they continue that debate in print for your pleasure.

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Chris: It’s been a long time since a game came along that had cutscenes good enough to just sit back and watch them straight through without even thinking about playing the game proper. Usually this would come down to an ending here or there or a good title sequence, but rarely do I enjoy having to set my controller down and watch things happen at me rather than play through the experience myself. That’s why I loved Brawl so much, since you could very well have Brawl and play it all the time and just now hear from our current No Right Answer episode that it has cutscenes somewhere in its depths of content.

But I don’t really want to talk about why Brawl is awesome since I’ve already done that and there’s no point. Nor do I really want to talk about what Kyle could have said regarding Max Payne – since he already won and that means he said quite enough – but also because I haven’t played any of the Max Payne games and have no interest (seeing the movie doesn’t count, even as a movie).

Instead, I’m just very curious how we’ve come so far with videogames while still being so blissfully clueless so often to what makes a cutscene really good anymore. Showing us cool things without any connection to what’s happening in the game isn’t cool (Dirge of Cerberus is entirely guilty of this). Inversely, making a cutscene an exposition dump is nearly as bad (Mass Effect, Fable 2, Fallout 3, these are your crimes). And then there’s the complete and utter puzzling nature of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, both praised for when they do a cutscene right and lambasted for when they bore me to tears.

Now, if we were doing a debate of the single best cutscene ever, I wouldn’t settle on Brawl. I’m pleased with Brawl as a whole since it includes quick jokes, small skirmishes, and excellent introductions to the characters, all without needless dialogue or exposition. But as one, singular, shining example of a cutscene done right, I’d point to Final Fantasy VI‘s ending. Those who haven’t played the game or haven’t decided to slog to the end, are missing out on utter greatness. Frustrated that Mass Effect 3‘s original ending was a bit vague and “quick”? FF6 had an ending that was nearly a half-hour long, and it was a Super Nintendo game. Super Nintendo. It resolved the plot, let you say goodbye to the characters, and then slammed you with the Final Fantasy Prelude, which should rip tears from your eye sockets unless you’re a soulless monster or Dan.

There’s, of course, something to be said for cheesy moments of clever humor, though. Resident Evil 4 was fantastic for giving you a slight break to breathe while exposition took place or characters sent verbal jabs back and forth, plus they added Quick-Time Events properly. Uncharted is pretty good at making cutscenes fun and enjoyable, though that’s partly because of the dialogue in general. And Sly Cooper, at least the first one (as that’s the only one I’ve played thus far), has wonderful cutscenes that function perfectly, and make you sort of wish it’d get an animated series already.

I suppose my point is that games with good cutscenes aren’t in short supply. It’s just that the ones that do have cutscenes that drag on without any significance and have such exorbitant lengths are just easier punching bags, and as gamers, we just love a good sandbag to smash around once in a while. Oh, and Brawl has a sandbag, funny how things relate like that.

P.S. To those fans of our show who just plain get it, you guys rock and we sincerely love you. Just wanted to say that.

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Kyle: Okay. Let me get this out of the way …

I know what cutscenes are. I know what film noir is. I know that my Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy jokes were cheap, easy jokes. Folks who have decided that I don’t, let me retort in your language:

Um, no. Ur wrongz. And I will fights you.

Anyway, the cutscene debate was a chance for Chris and I to wave our fanboy flags. While he took to Nintendo like a platypus to water, I feel the need to defend my Rockstar heritage.

And I think that schism is the inherent difference between two large groups of gamers. Chris is very old-school. He wants a game to be about skill, competition, and a fantastic world of its own logic. I, on the other hand, look for an engaging immersion style. I want an interactive movie with me as the star. And cutscenes become way more important in that regard.

The SSBB cutscenes are way more bang for your buck. I’m the first to admit it. Lots of character interaction in tiny packages, and then back to the action. And copious amounts of dialogue cannot accomplish that.

But at the same time, Max Payne‘s eerie and twisted fall into madness as he fights to take down the mob, the corrupt politicians and the evil corporations easily becomes a bloated nap.

Remember the Max Payne movie? Remember what it was like to watch a generic action guy blow the hell out of generic bad guys while the bare-bones plot justified it and the supporting cast phoned in every moment (as if they had no idea if they were villains, heroes, lovers, or furniture)?

That’s what the game would be like if you took the cutscenes out. No other game has made minor, level-specific boss fights into the showdowns Max Payne did. Jack Lupino, B.B., Frankie Niagra, Vinnie Gognitti … these guys were just warm-ups for the bigger fights, but we learned so much about them during those cutscenes that they feel real. They are over-the-top characters that shouldn’t die in the movie or comic book narrative that is their lives.

But if you take the cutscenes out of Brawl, you essentially have the same game. Not as much fun personality, perhaps. No Nintendo charm, at most. But beating on Jigglypuff feels the same. It is not made generic by the lack of cutscenes.

And I understand that the graphic novel format of the Max Payne cutscenes is not technologically impressive. But it fits. If the characters were rendered as lifelike shades of real people, it might make the game more impressive in that regard. But I’d argue that it would take the style out of the story, and turn it into a bad FMV game from 1996. I would probably throw a huge fit if Max Payne 3 had the technology of L.A. Noir for cutscenes.

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Dan: I personally think that the cutscene additions to the Mass Effect 3 endings fixed the problems I had with the game. So much so that I am considering playing through the entire game again just to experience the story the way it should have been from the start. It’s amazing that in the medium of video games, video can make the game worthwhile, even if the game can stand on its own. Some games like Half-Life try to incorporate the story that would have been in a cutscene into gameplay itself. As fun as this is, if you truly want to wow your audience and have them staring at their screen mouth-agape, you have to give them a break from gameplay to allow for it.

Points, points, who’s got the points? Chris tried to snag the first point but just spewed Nintendo love for a few minutes, so Kyle breaks the seal instead. It’s been a long time since many of us have played the first Max Payne, but the cutscenes were really quite revolutionary in adding to the atmosphere. The embedded example someone posted in the comment section reminded me how powerful they were. Still though they were, the mix of narration and sound effects made them more like a motion comic. The atmosphere they added, the story they furthered … like a layer of chocolate sauce drizzled on your best French hooker.

Chris showed his true colors, red and white I guess, by supporting what Kyle branded “Nintendo porn”. The cutscenes of Brawl basically show Nintendo fans everything they’ve ever wanted to see, as prizes to be won between frenetic battles of gameplay. Argue how you may the gourmet cutscenes of Max Payne, sometimes people just want the comfort food of Brawl. Just be sure to put on your stretchy pants and stop judging me.

Kyle pulled ahead with an interesting argument about cutscenes setting up the following action. In Brawl, we know it is a fighting game. There isn’t a level where you solve a physics puzzle or shoot zombies, it’s just a fighter. A cutscene isn’t going to raise any tension other than who is going to be fighting whom. Max Payne on the other hand, is going to get you engrossed in a cutscene comic, and either drop you into a firefight or into a back alley where you are searching for clues. In a time before quick-time events, you were glued to the cutscenes to see what hot mess you were going to be dropped into, and that was good game design.

Chris made the next argument about his cutscenes being quick and, at first glance, you might think that is a silly point to award. Then you play Metal Gear Solid 4 and you realize that quick cutscenes are the best thing in the world ever … ever.

Kyle, coming in for a nice solid win, landed the final point by stating that the cutscenes in Max Payne really fleshed out the characters, and made us care about who we were fighting. If anyone has seen the Thomas Jane Punisher movie, you know that the military friend he had betrayed him. If you watched the director’s cut, you know why he betrayed him. A little exposition makes that version vastly superior, and the same applies to Max Payne. There was really no reason why the Brawl characters were fighting, it was just cool to do. Maxy boy managed to have an excellent story, and look cool all at the same time.

Kyle’s smile was wider than the gaping hole in a semi-truck after it plows head-on into a road divider going 100mph.

Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.

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